What is it that makes a good leader? And what is the difference between managing and leading? We have all spent some of our time leading or being lead, and managed or managing. This is also true though, for people in general, i.e. people who are not corporate leaders. Parents lead children, people involved in sport lead teammates, and retired people organising events lead their friends in social activities. Being a part of a group, as well as being lead or managed, and managing and leading ourselves are a part of life. Think about the difference between someone who leads and someone who manages. Many of us will have had experience of being managed but this is juxtaposed with leadership and the distinction is not always clearly defined. We can think of managing as getting people to do our bidding, yet leadership is imbued with the notion of taking others along with us, of a mutual investment in working towards the same objectives. Our thinking on leadership has certainly developed over the last hundred years with contributions from psychologists, sociologists and philosophers influencing the way in which people lead and indeed, are led. In this article we consider these historical roots and how they have shaped current thinking on leadership. Let’s start by considering what is thought and known about the key leadership styles.

Styles of Leadership

Work around styles of leadership was sparked in the late 1930s by Kurt Lewin (Lewin, 1939) and in the 1940s by Ronald Lippit and Ralph White. This early work has subsequently influenced how leadership has been thought about in the following decades. For example, Lippit and White’s work, where they set up studies based on after-school clubs, are still commonly referred to, and contextualised to, business management today. Essentially in Lippit and White’s work the leaders in question were actually ‘plants’ known to the researchers and directed and coached to lead in one of three distinct leadership styles:

  • Laissez-faire leaders (laissez-faire from the French literally to, ‘let it do as it will’) were friendly and group orientated leaders and as the name suggests would leave the club to largely do as it pleased.

  • Whereas democratic leaders would seek suggestions and plans from other members and the leader would behave as an ordinary member of the club.

  • Meanwhile autocratic leaders would organise the clubs’ activities and give orders, they would not act like a normal member of the club but be less accessible and more removed.

Leadership and Productivity

When we are under autocratic leaders (a leader who is aggressive, dependent and less-liked) our productivity is likely to be high while the leader is present but becomes low when they are absent. In laissez-faire leadership, the leader is also less-liked, and productivity will be low but increased whenever the leader is absent- essentially a poor outlook for any business. This is contrasted with the democratic leader who will be more liked and have relatively high productivity both when they are present and absent, they essentially create a friendly, group-centred, and task-orientated group atmosphere.

We leave it for you to decide where your own leadership style fits! are you laissez-Faire, democratic or autocratic? or all three at times… What about the leaders you have known in your professional and personal life?

In the next article we will consider how leadership might be best achieved- by analysing the contrasts between autocratic and democratic leadership and the importance of thinking and research around transactional and transformational styles of leadership.

Dr Trevor Simper
Motivational Interviewing

Trevor is an MI trainer, coach, researcher and University lecturer and delivers Motivational Interviewing Training in Perth, for beginner to advanced level MI practitioners via workshops and coaching .  If you would like to read more about Trevor and his workshops on Essemy click this link.